Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 8, 1963
NUMBER 14, PAGE 1,8-9,12-13a

Music Divinely Appointed For Christian Worship

Cecil B. Douthitt

Music is considered an important feature in almost all religious meetings. Its value in making the services elevating and appealing is recognized generally.

Different kinds of music are found among different groups of worshipers. Some make music on mechanical instruments, some whistle, others hum, but all sing in some of their meetings at least.

One of two things is true: (1) God has expressed his will in the Bible on the kind of music for worship under Christ, or (2) he has not expressed it, but left the kind for men to decide. An earnest desire to please God and a proper zeal for righteousness should urge all to search the Scriptures whether his will on the kind of music is revealed or not, and if his will is made known by the Bible on this subject then the only kind that meets the expressed approval of the Lord should be offered in worship unto him.

I. Singing As An Act Of Worship Was Divinely Enjoined Under Both The Old And New Covenants

Moses in the law commanded the people to sing, and he wrote a song for the Israelites. Jehovah said unto Moses: "Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it to the children of Israel...So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel And Moses spake in the ears of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were finished" (Deut. 31:19, 22 - 30)' then the words of that song follow immediately in the 32nd chapter of Deuteronomy. Again God said, "Sing and rejoice, 0 daughter of Zion; for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith Jehovah." (Zech. 2:10)

While Jesus was here on earth and after he had established the Lord's supper on the night before his crucifixion he and his disciples sang a hymn. (Matt. 26:30)

The following scriptures reveal the whole counsel of God on the subject after the church was established:

Acts 16:25. "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them."

Rom. 15:9. "Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name."

1 Cor. 14:15. "I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also."

Eph. 5:19. "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord."

Col. 3:16. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God."

James 5:13. "Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise."

Therefore, it is God's will for true worshipers to sing.

II. The Other Three Kinds Of Music

-Instrumental, Whistling, Humming- As Acts Of Worship Are Without Any Divine Authority Whatever, And Therefore Sinful When Performed As Such 1. History Of Instrumental Music Under The Old Covenant.

In giving the law at Sinai God described the tabernacle, its furniture, and the priestly garments, in detail. He mentioned every item in the attire of the priests, in the material and make-up of the tabernacle, in the worship, and the trumpets to be used in calling Israel together. But it stands as a biblical, historical, significant fact that He said not one word about instruments of music in that tabernacle or in that worship. He did say, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it." (Deut. 4:2) "What thing soever I command you, that shall ye observe to do: thou shalt not add thereto nor diminish therefrom." (Deut. 12:32)

Under the law God gave them judges to protect and govern them, and for a period of about 400 years Israel continued to walk under this divinely appointed regime. But in the days of Samuel, matters had become so complicated that the people decided that God's plan of ruling by judges would be successful no longer. They wanted to change from the rule of judges to a kingly government. So they rejected the wisdom of Jehovah and adopted a system of their own wisdom.

Did any people ever offer better excuses for changing God's order, than was offered by these Israelites? (1) Samuel was old; (2) his sons did not walk in his ways, and under their rule justice probably would be perverted; (3) they wanted a king, like other nations, who would go before them and fight their battles. Yet God said they rejected Him in making this change.

God in his anger gave them a king. After His administration had been exchanged for a human dynasty, instrumental music was introduced into the worship. Amos (6:1-6) said: "Woe to them....that invent for themselves instruments of music, like David." David was not the inventor of the instruments themselves; they were invented long before David's day. He introduced them into the worship of God, and made them a part of the worship. That was his invention, and that was why Amos reproved him.

Upon a few special occasions before David's innovation, some broke into ecstasy of exuberant praise by means of both the dance and mechanical instruments (see Ex. 15:20, 21), but David is invariably accredited with the introduction of instrumental music under the Old Covenant. About 500 years after David was anointed king, Ezra (3:10) said that the setting of the sons of Asaph with cymbals to praise Jehovah was "after the order of David king of Israel." In Neh... 12:36, the instruments are again referred to as "the musical instruments of David." The prophesying with harps, psalteries and cymbals mentioned in 1 Chron. 25:1-7 was "under the order of the king." In 2 Chron. 29: 25, 26, the cymbals, psalteries and harps in the house of God, "according to the commandment of David," are mentioned in contradistinction to the commandments of God. God never failed to distinguish between the instruments of David and the divine requirements. It is obvious from this distinction and the woe pronounced by Amos, that David brought these instruments into the worship of his own accord and without God's approval. Adam Clarke, who has been called the Prince of Commentators, has made some very appropriate statements right on this point:

"Moses had not appointed any musical instruments to be used in the Divine worship; there was nothing of the kind under the first tabernacle. The trumpets or horns then used were not for song nor for praise, but as we use bells, i.e. to give notice to the congregation of what they were called to perform. etc. But David did certainly introduce many instruments of music into God's worship, for which we have already seen he was solemnly reproved by the prophet Amos, chap.6:1-6 It was by the hand or commandment of the Lord and his prophets that the Levites should praise the Lord; for so the Hebrew text may be understood: and it was by the order of David that so many instruments of music should be introduced into the Divine service. But were is even evident, which it is not, either from this or any other place in the sacred writings, that instruments of music were prescribed by Divine authority under the law, could this be adduced with any semblance of reason, that they ought to be used in Christian worship? No; the whole spirit, soul, and genius of the Christian religion are against this: and those who know the Church of God best and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion' and that where they prevail most, there is least of the power of Christianity. Away with such portentous baubles from the 'worship of that infinite Spirit who requires his followers to worship him in spirit and in truth, for to no such worship are those instruments friendly."

(Com. on 2 Chron. 29:25)

In view of this "woe" pronounced by Amos, and of the oft repeated distinction that God made between David's instruments and God's commandments, all that can be logically or reasonably claimed for the use of instrumental music under the law, is that God tolerated it as He tolerated divorce, polygamy, and the kingly form of government. Under the Old Covenant the Israelites were in a course of preparation for the system we are now under: they were under a school master; and Jehovah overlooked many things during those days of childhood and ignorance that He does not tolerate under this covenant of truth, grace and faith. No more can be said in defense of instrumental music under either the law or the gospel, than can be said in defense of divorce and the kingly form of government. Not one of these things pleased Jehovah, even under the law.

Though God was never pleased with divorce and remarriage, yet He tolerated it under the Old Covenant. Deut. 24:1, 2 says, "When a man taketh a wife, and marrieth her, then it shall be, if she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some unseemly thing in her, that he shall write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife." If this passage contained all the information we have on this subject, none could deny that divorce and remarriage met the sanction of God unreservedly. But Jesus gave us some more information concerning the mind of God on this subject: "He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it hath not been so." (Matt. 19:8) From this we learn that divorce did not please Jehovah, even when He tolerated it under the Jewish economy.

After the Israelites had asked for a king, "Jehovah said unto Samuel, Hearken unto their voice and make them a king " (1 Sam. 8:22) He went so far as to select that king, and to send His prophet to anoint him. Yet we know that thing did not please Him for He protested and said "They have rejected me that I should not be king over them." (1 Sam. 8:7)

Likewise He tolerated instrumental music under the law and likewise He registered a protest. Psalms 150: 4,5, says, "Praise him with timbrel and dance: Praise him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise him with loud cymbals: Praise his with high sounding cymbals." We would have no disposition whatever to deny that God was pleased with instrumental music and dancing under the law if Psalms 150 contained all the information we have on that subject in that dispensation. But the protest that the Lord registered against instrumental music in Amos 6:1-6, is as plain and prohibitive as any opposition He ever expressed to divorce and the kingly government. "Woe to them ... that invent for themselves instruments of music, like David." These are God's words; they are not meaningless, and should not be ignored. Again let me give a few sentences from that "illustrious commentator," Adam Clarke:

"If there was woe to them who invented instruments of music, as did David under the law, is there no woe, no curse to them who invent them, and introduce them into the worship of God in the Christian Church? I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God; and have reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the author of Christianity" (Com. on Amos 6:5).

But were it evident from any passage of scripture — which it is not--that instrumental music had been divinely prescribed under the law, even then it could no more be justified in Christian worship than burning incense, lighting candles, circumcision, eating the mutton of the Passover supper (Ex. 12:1-14; Matt. 26:17-201. and the restoration of other shadows of the law. (Col. 2:14-17) The law of Moses has been taken out of the way, and we are now under the New Testament of Jesus Christ. An attempt to justify religious practices by the law is a dangerous procedure because it is a rejection of the authority of Christ. "Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace." (Gal. 5:4)

2. History Of Instrumental Music Since The Church Was Established.

Instrumental music in the worship is not authorized in the New Covenant, but adding to the word of God is clearly forbidden. (2 John 9; Rev. 22:18; Gal. 1:8-9)

We cannot learn in the New Testament just when instrumental music was introduced into Christian worship; because that document is silent regarding that kind of music in the worship. If the best church histories and standard encyclopedias are not reliable, we have no way of determining the date of its introduction. But having never had any cause for impeaching the veracity and competency of our historians regarding this matter, I wish to give just here a few quotations from a few encyclopedias.

"Instrumental music is also of very ancient date. its Invention being ascribed to Tubal the sixth descendant from Cain. That instrumental music was not practiced by the primitive Christians, but was an aid to devotion of later times, is evident from church history." (Fessenden's Encyclopedia, p.852, Art Music.)

"Pope Vitalian is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches of Western Europe, about 670; but the earliest trustworthy account is that of one sent as a present by the Greek emperor Constantine Copronymus to Pepin, king of the Franks. in 755." (The American Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, p. 688)

"The organ is said to have been introduced into church music by Pope Vitalian 1, in 666. In 757, a great organ was sent as a present to Pepin by the Byzantine emperor, Constantine Copronymus and placed in the church of St. Corneille at Coinpiegne. Soon after Charlemagne's time organs became common." (Chamber's Encyclopedia, Vol. 7. p. 112)

"In the Greek church the organ never came into use. But after the eighth century it became more and more common in the Latin church; not, however, without opposition from the side of the monks." (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 1702)

"Pope Vitalianus in 658 introduced the organ into the Roman churches to accompany the singers." (London Encyclopedia. Vol. 15, p. 280)

Thus we see a remarkable coincidence between the introduction of instrumental music into Jewish worship and its introduction into Christian worship. This innovation came into Jewish worship after God's government had been exchanged for human government; it came into Christian worship after the supreme and sole reign of Christ had been exchanged for the papacy, and the Roman pontiff had exalted "himself against all that is called God," "setting himself forth as God."

3. Testimony Of Scholars.

Only in recent years has instrumental music come to be accepted without question in Protestant denominations.

Practically every denomination now using instrumental music in its worship introduced it over the protest of some of its most profound Bible scholars. Some of the greatest religious teachers the world has ever seen have bitterly opposed it. John Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterian denomination, said that musical instruments in worship would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. John Wesley said he had no objection to them in Methodist chapels, provided they were neither heard nor seen. Adam Clarke, the illustrious commentator, said that he believed instrumental music in the worship was against the will of God. C. H. Spurgeon, a world-renowned Baptist preacher, speaking of mechanical instruments said: "We do not need them; they would hinder rather than help our praise." "We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it." Alexander Campbell said that, to all spiritually minded Christians, instrumental music in the worship would be as a cow-bell in a concert. J. W. McGarvey said it was one of the latest corruptions of the Roman apostasy.

4. Psallo.

In defense of the unscriptural use of mechanical instruments in worship, some have made the unscholarly claim that the idea of mechanical instrumentation inheres in the Greek verb "psallo," which is translated "making melody" in Eph. 5: 19. I shall give you a few reasons why I believe that claim to be unscholarly and erroneous.

1. About 150 men, who represented the cream of the scholarship of their generations, gave us the King James and Revised versions of the New Testament. There is nothing in either of these translations to indicate that the idea of mechanical instrumentation inheres in the word "psallo." If playing on a mechanical instrument had been the New Testament meaning of this word, these scholars would have so translated it, or would have merely Anglicized it, instead of translating it so as to carry no idea of mechanical instrumentation.

2. No commandment of the New Testament can be obeyed short of anything and everything that the meaning of that commandment requires. If mechanical instrumental music inheres in the word "psallo," we cannot psallein without mechanical instruments. So far as I know all admit that we can psallein without mechanical instruments. Even a tyro in logic ought to be able to see the inconsistency between this admission and the claim that mechanical instruments inhere in the term "psallo."

3. That the word "psallo," as used by the apostle, primarily means to pluck, or cause to vibrate, is admitted by all. It is impossible to make melody without plucking or causing something to vibrate. But the point of controversy is: What is to be plucked or caused to vibrate? and how is this melody to be made?

There are many things that may be caused to vibrate, and many ways of making melody; but Eph. 5:19 clearly states that this "melody" is to be made by "speaking" or "singing," and that the instrument to be plucked or caused to vibrate is the human heart. Therefore, by God's law of exclusion, this melody cannot be made in the human heart, except by "singing." Every kind of music, except singing, in which the heart is plucked or caused to vibrate, is excluded from the worship by the same law.

The Greek Orthodox Church has never practiced instrumental music. They speak the original Greek, and say by their practice that "psallo" does not imply the mechanical instrument. "In the year 608 there were some Greeks who tried to introduce the organ into the church, but in a synod in which there were some two hundred and eighty bishops it was repudiated as not being authorized by their mother tongue" (Boswell-Hardeman Debate, p. 187).

5. Whistling and humming were never divinely authorized for worship in any dispensation. In order that all may be edified Paul teaches that speaking, praying and singing in the church should be done in a language that all can understand. He said, "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." (1 Cor. 14:15) How can humming or whistling be any better than singing in an unknown tongue when no words are understood in any of these things? Does humming or whistling a tune edify any more than singing in a language that the hearers do not understand? Can either humming or whistling accomplish one thing more than singing in an unknown language?

In Eph. 5:19 worshipers are commanded to "speak" in songs. Words are no more spoken in humming or whistling than they are spoken by piano music.

In Col. 3:16 one of the expressed purposes of singing is to teach and admonish one another; but how can there be any teaching or admonishing in instrumental music, or whistling, or humming?

Though the Bible nowhere says, "Thou shalt not do these things," nevertheless they are all three forbidden by God's law of exclusion.

III. God's Law Of Exclusion

About four hundred years ago two great religious reformers, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, failed to agree on a principle that caused each to go his separate way. Luther believed that all things were acceptable in worship and service of God, except the things expressly forbidden by the Scriptures. According to Luther's view things regarding which the Bible is silent are permissible in the worship of God. But Zwingli believed that all things regarding which the Bible is silent are forbidden by God's law of exclusion and must be left out of the worship.

Unity among worshipers can never exist until this issue is settled, and settled right. Are all things excluded from the worship and service of God, except the acts specified and the things necessary in performing them? Does God have such a law of exclusion? What saith the Scriptures?

God told Noah to make the ark of gopher wood. The kind of wood was specified. Though God did not say, "Thou shalt not use oak or pine," are we to conclude that Noah was at liberty to use them in addition to gopher wood in building the ark? Certainly not; when God specified the kind to be used that excluded his using any other kind of wood.

God told Moses to bring water from the rock by speaking to it. (Numbers 20:7-13) In addition to speaking to it, Moses acted on the principle that he could do that which was not expressly forbidden, so he struck the rock. He violated God's law of exclusion and God's displeasure was manifested in the death of Moses.

In naming bread and fruit of the vine as elements of the Lord's supper (Luke 22:19, 20), the Lord thereby excluded the meat of the pass-over feast, and it was not necessary for him to say, "Thou shalt not eat mutton in the worship."

"Singing" is designated by the Lord in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 as the kind of music to be made by true worshipers. It there is any such thing at all as "God's law of exclusion," instrumental music is forbidden by the command to sing.

In both of these passages spiritual songs are specified as the kind that must be sung by true worshipers; therefore all hillbilly songs, love songs, cowboy songs and patriotic songs are excluded by the term "spiritual."

These two passages (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) specify and require that speaking, teaching and admonishing one another be in the melody that is made. "Making melody" by whistling, or playing on an instrument or humming is forbidden by God's law of exclusion, because there can be no teaching, admonishing or speaking in these three kinds of melody.

These things are not sinful within themselves and therefore are not forbidden in exercises and performances of a social or entertainment or pastime nature, but only from the worship of God.

For example, wedding performances are not exercises of spiritual worship. If they were services of worship, such songs as "I Love You Truly" and "Here Comes The Bride" could not be sung, for they are not "spiritual songs" and therefore are forbidden in worship by God's law of exclusion; tunes could not be hummed or whistled; there could be no lighting of candles as a part of the performance; there could be no instrumental music. All these things may be done in weddings and such like; they are excluded only from worship of God. If the people of God are permitted to do all things in worship that they are permitted to do in weddings and social exercises, then the worshipers could sing such songs as "The Indian Love Call" in worship of God.

IV. Objections

We conclude therefore that there is no scriptural authority for any kind of music or melody in church worship, except singing of spiritual songs with grace in the heart.

The weak and beggarly attempt to justify by certain prophetic statements of David's psalms any music or melody other than that produced by speaking in spiritual songs has failed obviously. It stands as a biblical fact without exception that when a New Testament writer makes mention of music as a fulfillment of a prophecy or promise of the Old Testament that he specifically names singing as the fulfillment of that prophecy or promise; as in Rom. 15:9, "Therefore will I give praise unto thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name."

1. Faith comes by hearing God's word. (Rom. 10:17) God's word says nothing about instrumental music in Christian worship. Therefore it cannot be of faith. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23)

2. Jesus said that, in order to worship God acceptably, we must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24) The true worship can be determined only by the precedent of apostolic practice. The apostles did everything that the meaning of true worship requires or permits. Instrumental music was not part of their worship. Then it can be no part of true worship, 3. Jesus says that obedience to the precepts of men constitutes vain worship. (see Matt. 15:9) God does not authorize instrumental music in Christian worship either by precept or example. Then it must be a precept of man and is, therefore, vain worship.

4. We cannot worship God acceptably by images "graven by art and device of man." (Acts 17:22-31) Instrumental music is an item of worship "graven by art and device of man"; that is, it is man's invention; it is man's commandment; it is a work of man's contrivance. We can no more worship God by a commandment carved by an uninspired pen, than we can worship Him by an image carved by an uninspired knife or chisel. He is not served by men's hands.

Jehovah has greater delight in humble obedience to His voice than He has in anything that man can devise by his own ingenuity. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to harken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and seraphim." (1 Sam. 15: 22,23)

May the Lord keep back all His servants from presumptuous sins.

— Louisville, Kentucky